Every survival site will give you a list of stuff you need in this bag. But that’s putting the cart before the horse. The first issue is how much “bag” can you carry? This and more in The Green Beret Survival Guide. In Special Forces, the only time I had to remove someone from my A-Team, the reason was simple: he could not carry the heavy weight of an operational rucksack while on a deployment. Our rucks averaged 125–150 pounds. And that’s just the ruck. Add in body armor, and load bearing equipment, now known at MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment– I love the ‘light-weight’ part– a joke in the army is: Man portable isn’t) which was bursting with ammunition, grenades, radio, and other stuff. Just because you can lift it off the ground for a second doesn’t mean you can carry it for dozens of kilometers. Often was the time when we needed someone’s help to pull us up off the ground once we put our arms through the straps of our rucks. We were required by SOP to have our gear packed and ready in the team room for immediate deployment. We tested this concept during the Gut Check by alerting teams, then supervising them as they loaded out, making sure they took their rucksacks as they were, not allowing any repacking or adding of gear or supplies. This made everyone take the SOP very, very seriously as they had to live with that ruck for a couple of weeks while on the Gut Check, or on an operation where their lives depended on it. Optimally, you’d want to take everything with you. But you can’t. Sitting in isolation, we’d cut down our rations, removing such unnecessary weight as plastic spoons. When it came down to deciding between a ration and bullets, the decision leaned toward the latter. So there is no one right bag. You have to configure your G&G bag to your situation and your surrounding environment. Prioritize depending on what you envision your survival needs to be. As an aside, I am not a fan of the ‘survival bunker’ mentality. I know there are many people who have fortified their facilities and stocked them full of supplies. That’s great, until someone comes to take it. Yes, I know the first dozen or so will be stopped, but eventually a static position in an extreme survival situation (total collapse of society) is not tenable. It is fine for a short term survival situation where you’re better off staying in place. In fact, for the Lazy Man’s Survival Guide there’s Rule #1: find the closest survivalist and take their stuff. I know it won’t be easy, and most will fail — Anywho. I recommend having several G&G bags. One in your home. One in your car. One at your place of work. And one in your hide site. Not only does this keep one handy, it gives you redundancy in key survival supplies in case of an extreme emergency. Again, like almost everything else, you can buy a pre-packed G&G bag on line. These are generic. For a car, I think a pre-packed bag is a good idea if you’re not going to take the time to do it personally. Throughout the Green Beret Survival Guide, I give you a good idea of equipment that is useful. I prefer to pack my own as much of the gear in the packaged ones is either not particularly useful or the cheapest made in order to keep the overall price down. You get what you pay for. How much is your life worth? As we used to say in the Army: remember, your weapon was made by the lowest bidder. So was that pre-packaged survival pack.
At home, I’ve got two bags ready; a large and a smaller one. Each are self-sustaining for varying amounts of time. In an extreme my wife would take the small and I’d have the large. If we were going to bug out in my Jeep, we’d put both in the back, plus a waterproof container with food, ammo, and more. And, in the Jeep, of course, is a lot of survival gear which I have with me all the time when I drive it. To the right is just one of the waterproof containers in/on my Jeep. Note the nifty book about survival? Inside a zip lock bag? Emergency water filtration system? Hand crank/solar radio-flashlight? When picking items, choose those that can have multiple uses instead of one. I have a hand crank survival radio that also has a built in flashlight and an adapter for charging my cell phone and a solar charger. Three items in one with two non-electric power sources. Do NOT count on either the power grid or even batteries for long term power. Use a bag that is at least water repellent, if not waterproof. If it isn’t waterproof, pack your items in waterproof bags (garbage bags are too flimsy). A key lesson of surviving in nature is to keep things waterproofed. I tend to redundant waterproof key items, especially clothing and sleeping gear. And dry socks. Did I say dry socks? Your environment and likely emergencies are going to be the determining factors in what you put in your G&G bags. In the Green Beret Survival Guide I describe the Special Forces Area Study which you must do in preparation. This will help determine what you pack.
Also, remember there are items that do not go in the bag, but must be carried on your body. I keep a vest for that; there is more than just ammunition on my vest, although that is the priority; there is also key survival items such as a compass, lighters (critical), 550 cord, water purification, and more. Here are items to consider:
- The bag itself. This goes back to how much you can carry, at the very least until your first rally point (you do have a rally point for your family, right? No? Read the book.). Also, remember, the bigger the bag, the more obvious it is. And the more someone might want to steal it from you. If you have no experience with backpacks, go to your local sporting good store (REI always has knowledgeable personnel working) and ask. Do you want just a regular backpack like kids take to school? An internal frame ruck? External frame? Built in hydrating system? The choices are limitless. What you should do is go down this list, write out what exactly you want in the bag, get the stuff, then find a bag that fits the stuff. You might find you’re trying to carry too much stuff (did you see the movie Wild?). Also, consider the color of the bag. I’d go with, if not camouflage, something that is dark in color, or that matches your surrounding terrain. This is key because a lot of civilian gear is colored so you ARE seen. Tents, packs, etc. For short term survival you want to be seen. For long term? Uh, no. Because remember the Lazy Man’s Survival Guide rule #1?
- Water. Either a built in water supply such as a camelbak or pockets/clips for water carriers. Most packs have external loops on which you can secure canteens and water carriers. Remember, though, that water sloshing about and things on the outside of your bag banging about, violate noise discipline. Do the old “hop up and down” drill that was used before every patrol. Anything that makes a noise, tape it down. An integral part of any G&G bag is a way to purify water. In fact, I keep something to purify water on my vest. There are a lot of things we can live without. Water isn’t one. And as I note in the book, most water in nature isn’t safe to drink. Also, I do have to say this, in cold weather environment, water freezes in a canteen strapped on the outside of your pack.
- Fire. Have lighters and matches. I used to carry a half-dozen cheap plastic lighters on me when I deployed (I’ve upgraded to storm proof ones). If matches, make sure they are storm-proof and carried in a waterproof container. You need a small stove with a fuel supply for at least a few days. Go with the stove for cooking initially instead of a fire because of smoke and light discipline. Also, you might add in a magnesium fire starter. Make sure you practice with it before trying it for the first time in the midst of a downpour and hurricane force winds. Indeed– practice with all of it. Spend a night with it out in the woods, or desert, or at least your back yard. Your neighbors will laugh until they come looking for you under Lazy Man’s Survival Guide rule #1.
- Shelter. At least a poncho if not a tube tent. Something to keep the water and wind off you.
- First aid. You can buy complete kits. Or pack you own. More on this in another post (or in the book). I’d recommend a medical mask in case of contagion. I’ve got med kits in all G&G bags, in my Jeep, in my wife’s car, in the bathroom, etc. Also bought those fast clot bandages; I have them stuffed everywhere, including one on my mountain bike. Worth it. I make a note to check expiration dates on medical gear.
- Food. Enough for a week. At least one pot/kit to cook the food in. Utensils. I have learned to check expiration dates on food after eating that yummy, surprisingly hard, Power Bar that expired three years previously. Hey, it was food. You’d be surprised what you’ll start eating when you have to.
- Light. I have a rechargeable flashlight. It’s heavy, but that is balanced against carrying batteries. Also have smaller, LED type lights. I also like to have a headlamp. Often, in the dark, doing survival activities, you’ll need both hands, so this helps. Also, consider having a red lens cover or red option for all lights so you can use them at night and not give out a large signature. Candles are also an option and they have the added benefit of allowing you to start a fire. However, be careful with them, especially inside your home or tent or wigwam. They are useful, though, inside your snow cave to glaze the inside. Ah, good old Winter Warfare. Lying there in the snow cave, watching the candle flicker, then go out from lack of oxygen, and not really caring.
- Chem lights.
- Sleeping bag. This is dependent on your locale. If the weather doesn’t get too extreme, consider a bivy sack. I often just used a waterproof, Goretex bivy sack with the extra clothes I carried instead of a fart sack, aka a sleeping bag.
- Clothing. Socks. Socks. And some socks. Beyond that, it depends on your environment. I love 5–11 Tactical Pants. More on that in the clothing section of the book.
- Tools: a) At the very least a Leatherman type tool. I carry one with me all the time on my belt. I have one on the side of my seat in the Jeep. I have one on my vest. I have one in all my G&G bags. I like the common one, but I also have the vice grip type in my Jeep and it’s proved quite useful. Jen sent me the hammer one and it’s also in the Jeep. b) A fixed blade knife. We used to argue about knives all the time in our team room. Which type was best, where to carry it, etc. etc. You don’t need a Rambo type knife, in fact, it’s too big and too heavy. I like a six to eight inch blade with a serrated edge on the back side for sawing. If you’re down to slitting throats, then you ran out of ammo and were probably sitting in your survival bunker. c) If snow is likely, a snow shovel that backpackers or back country skiers use. d) A machete could be useful. I’d go with a folding saw over a machete. Unless you live on the edge of a place where you will have to be cutting your way through. Or have to chop off Zombie heads. Then again, depends on zombie type. Walking Dead? Run. World War Z? Run faster that the person next to you. e) Tools is where you really start thinking about weight. f) Rope. At the very least a roll of light, powerful cord. Parachute cord or 550 cord as we called it in the army. This is very strong, very light and narrow cord that again, will have more uses than you can imagine. g) A pocket chain wire saw. Light weight, small, but can be very useful in a variety of situations. Such as amputating your own arm if its pinned to a canyon wall by a boulder. Joking. Not. h) A signal mirror. i) A signal panel, such as a VS-17. This is why everything else is muted or camouflaged. You keep this packed away until you actually want to signal someone. j) If you plan on having to travel at night, in the dark, each member of the team should have headgear with reflective strips on the back. You can then follow your point person. Until they suddenly drop out of sight, which means they’ve walked off a cliff. Don’t follow them at that point.
- Optics. A small pair of binoculars or a small telescope could be very valuable. You can double up the use by having a scope on your long or assault rifle. Some say night vision goggles but now you’re crossing the line into the Apocalypse and Zombies and we’ll discuss this later. I don’t see NVGs being in your G&G bag unless you live in Nome, Alaska where it’s dark 24 hours a day and vampires can come and have a buffet as they did in 30 Days of Night. Then get a set so you can at least see the vampire that kills you.
- Fishing. Line, hooks, sinkers and some lures. Do you even know how to fish? The Donner Party starved to death and ate each other next to a lake with trout in it.
- Snare wire. Indispensable. You’ll be amazed how many different uses you’ll find for this beyond setting snares. Traps are a much more efficient and secure way to catch game over hunting. Hunting also leaves a noise signature that might attract unwanted guests.
- Sewing kit. If you know how to sew. You know, sewing up that wound like Rambo.
- Ziplock bags. Light, don’t take up much space, but can be invaluable.
- At least one roll of electrical tape. Lighter than duct tape.
- Gloves. For weather but also a light set for working. Something that gives you a good grip while also protecting your skin. When I was in the field, I wore gloves pretty much all the time. They allowed me to handle my weapon but also protected my hands from all sorts of nasties, including Zombie mucus and blood.
- Cash. ATMs won’t work if the power is out. As you see in Panic in the Year Zero, the head of the family has to quickly buy supplies when he realizes there’s been a nuclear strike (he WASN’T ready with a G&G bag in his car or his trailer!). How much is up to you. How much is your life worth? Long term survival, money will be worth little pretty quick. Then your G&G bag contents are priceless.
- Gold or other precious metals for barter. This will be the initial barter material until it gets real bad when food, first aid and weapons will take priority. Gold will get worthless pretty quickly. So will cash.
- Toilet paper. A comfort item. But if you’ve ever wiped your rear with poison ivy — enough said.
- A map of the area. A physical, geographic map. You can order these. I’d go with 1:25,000 scale at least. Can you read a topo map?
- Pen/pencil and paper. So you can record your last thoughts before the Zombies get you– like, I wish I’d packed my G&G bag better.
- Insect repellent if applicable.
- Survival radio. A hand crank powered one is preferred. Make sure it tunes into the emergency frequencies. This might be your only way to find out what is going on.
- Identification. Driver’s license, passport.
- Weapons. Will be discussed elsewhere.
Lay out everything you want to put in your various G&G bags. Will it all fit? If not, prioritize what doesn’t go. When you pack the bag, pack it backwards: what is least important goes in first. What you might need right away is last in, or in outside pockets. I like to have the med kit and ammo readily available. Can you carry it? Put it on. Go for a walk. A long walk. In your survival boots. Get the various bags in place: home, car, work, hide site. In the latter three places actually HIDE them. So even if someone stumbles across your hide site, they won’t find the G&G bag. I lightly cover caching in the book, which is actually quite an art form that we spent a long time on in Special Forces. Sign up for my newsletter, over there on the side, to get access to more information and special deals on my books! Buy The Green Beret Survival Guide or some survival guide. NOW. Because you can’t prepare after the fact! Watch out for that–!
Originally published at www.writeitforward.com on February 2, 2016.